Focusing on high quality research in Sweden
Open Access Government’s MF Warrender shares how Education Minister Helene Hellmark Knutsson is ensuring high quality research in Sweden occurs
The Ministry of Education and Research in Sweden has a staff of 200 who work together in areas such as education, research, and youth policy. The government’s most recent plan for strengthening its innovative capacity in these areas is highlighted in last year’s presentation of the research policy bill: “Collaborating for knowledge – for society’s challenges and strengthened competitiveness.” The bill presents the government’s view on the direction of research policy for the following decade, focusing in particular on measures in 2017-2020. Some of the main goals of the bill include basic appropriations to higher education institutions; initiatives in research linked to global societal challenges and increased resources to strengthen Sweden’s innovative capacity.
Helene Hellmark Knutsson has been the Minister for Higher Education and Research in the Swedish government since October 2014 and stressed the bill’s significant focus should be high-quality research, and long-term conditions for researchers, rather than pressure for quick results. She states that the primary aim of research policy is for Sweden to be one of the world’s foremost research and innovation countries, as well as a “leading knowledge nation” where high-quality research, higher education and innovation leads to society’s development and welfare, the business sector’s competitiveness and responds to the societal challenges we face, both in Sweden and around the world.
The proposed autumn budget will ensure Sweden’s status as a knowledge nation, with the government announcing an increase in the appropriations for research and innovation of over SEK 3 billion until 2020. With this budget, the bill plans to safeguard free research, prioritise research in areas such as climate, health and life sciences and digitalisation, and also increase research quality within schools through practically- based research. Furthermore, by increasing and distributing basic appropriations, the Swedish Research Council will enable higher education institutions to play a larger part in being responsible for the long-term responsibility of research.
Hellmark Knutsson is quoted on the overall importance of education and research. She said: “Knowledge is the foundation of positive societal change and our primary means of competing internationally. Sweden must compete on the basis of knowledge and skills – not low wages.”
The bill also aims to fuel the government’s plans to strengthen gender equality – a difficult but vital target to achieve within research. To work towards the objective, a number of measures are being carried out; for example, creating new and more ambitious recruitment targets for professors. This stress on gender equality and the underrepresentation of women in leadership positions within academia is reinforced through a speech made recently by Hellmark Knutsson at the 5th European Women Rectors Conference in May. She speaks of raising awareness of this gender gap, making reference to Sweden as having “the world’s first feminist government,” and stresses that “the goal of gender equality policy is a very high priority, with lots of work to be done.” The share of female professors today in Sweden is only 27%, despite the fact that more women than men attend and graduate from higher education. This needs to improve drastically. One way of doing this is Sweden’s strategy of gender mainstreaming, which is absolutely crucial to make a change. The strategy is a way of ensuring that all policy making has a gender equality perspective and analysis, and is a policy that lies at the heart of their work. The minister ends her speech with the inspiring words: “Let us do that and continue to fight the inequality within academia today. The world needs more science and science needs more women.”
The Ministry of Education and Research also maintains its prominence in the area of space, with the Research Bill containing a large section which deals with space activity. There are several exciting projects underway in this field, in both Sweden and Europe, where a few processes are ongoing that will be of major significance to Swedish and European space activities in the future.
It is important to remember the value of research into space activities and how vital these developments and innovations from the space sector can be to many other areas. Deeper interdisciplinary cooperation will increase with a deeper focus on space, as it often inspires an interest in technology and science among young people, engendering them to enter the world of education in the areas of engineering or research.
Open Access Government